The First Time I Had Sex After Getting Herpes

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The first time I had sex after getting diagnosed he was wearing that black blazer I loved over a white v-neck shirt. We tasted like beer and early summer sweat, finals over, medication finished. Sunlight spilled through my bedroom window and my back was against the plaster wall. I think my roommate was out; otherwise she was right on the other side listening to One Direction and worrying about me like the sister the universe knew I needed that year. Continue reading

Who I Am Now

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I got my first tattoo in September. After years of sketching the Golden Gate Bridge on every spare corner of notebook paper, I woke up one morning sure of the decision to commit to its lines for life. My TED coworkers—almost all of whom have tattoos as well—offered their advice, and our site comment moderator recommended an artist in the West Village not far from the office. That Friday I hesitated on the sidewalk out front, intimidated by the bright lights and tough, masculine staff, before stepping through the front door. I was terrified but I was sure. It marks the only moment I’ve been sure of anything this fall. Continue reading

I, Ella Dawson, Am a Slut with Herpes

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Only sluts wear leather jackets. Photo Credit: Andrew Cambell Nelson

It started, as most things do, with a tweet. Way back in April 2016, I started a hashtag with some of my friends for STD Awareness Month. I’ve already written about how #ShoutYourStatus was co-opted by anti-feminist trolls and the group now known as the Alt-Right. But one of the tweets I published at the time was recently embedded in an article about me on InfoWars (headline: HILLARY CLINTON SENDS THANK YOU LETTER TO “SLUT” WHO IS PROUD OF HER SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE). Here is the tweet in question:

I could write a blog post about why I called myself a slut in response to the wave of genuine tweets in the #ShoutYourStatus conversation about how you don’t have to be a slut to get herpes. I could write a post about the respectability politics I see all the time within the STI community about how some of us deserve more sympathy than others. I could write about how people with more than one STI are often shunned by other community members because they should have “learned their lesson” and “been more careful” despite the fact that some STIs cannot be prevented. I could write about how I was trying to use my position as a community leader to shut that shit down and redirect the conversation in a more productive, less shaming direction.

But that blog post wouldn’t be fun. Instead I’m going to talk about why I, Ella Dawson, am a slut. Continue reading

It’s STD Awareness Month. Why Aren’t We Celebrating?

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In case you hadn’t noticed from the month-long party I’m throwing on my Twitter feed, it’s STD Awareness Month. April is the most wonderful time of the year: publications are popping out STD-related content, weird billboards are pasted up encouraging us to get tested, and there are not one but two hashtags for me to use when sharing my blog posts (not that they are the most interesting hashtags of all time, but still, THERE ARE HASHTAGS). This is the one opportunity that we get to mention STDs constantly, and I’m so goddamn excited. Continue reading

The Herpes Interviews: The Guy From The Bar

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A few weeks ago I crashed a party at a dive bar in Brooklyn. I’d just gotten back from a business trip and I hadn’t seen my friends in a while, so I promised myself I would have one drink and then go home and catch up on sleep. But Brooklyn had other plans for me: I met someone. Five weeks later, he let me interview him about what it’s like to fuck someone with herpes, how much texting is too much texting, and how he feels about me live-tweeting our relationship. Continue reading

I Asked Facebook For Its Dating Red Flags

116017204_3a475bc6a1_oOn Thursday I made the brilliant mistake of asking Facebook for its dating red flags. I’d had a rough week dealing with the shittiness of men on the Internet, and crowd-sourcing my disgust with dating seemed like a good way to have a solid laugh and feel less isolated. I figured I’d get maybe a dozen comments. I wound up with close to 200 comments and half a dozen private messages. It turns out my Facebook friends have seen some shit.

The stories ranged from hilarious to painful—people who refused to tip their servers, casual transphobic comments, girlfriends who “don’t really listen to music.” I learned several things: gas-lighting is out of fucking control, men who make comments about not understanding rape culture are significantly more likely to be dangerous, and we’re hungry for the opportunity to discuss our confusing and mortifying experiences. I received messages from people I barely even know who just needed to tell someone about what happened to them and didn’t really need me to say anything back. We all need to feel heard.

Notably, men’s complaints were largely funny, while women’s were largely horrifying. Go figure. Continue reading

Ella’s Guide To Texting Your Potential Bae

Texty_0af13b_2082247I’ve earned a reputation for being an assertive, direct person when it comes to letting someone know that I’m interested, romantically or sexually. What I haven’t talked about much is that many of those “hey, I want to bone you” conversations have happened over text message, when I couldn’t see the person’s face and they couldn’t see mine. Words make me bold, make me stronger, and hitting on someone through them is worlds easier than telling them in person. And rejection, when it comes, is much less painful to process when it’s letters on a screen.

Weirdly enough, I often find myself enjoying the banter and nervous expectation of texting more than the first date itself. It’s a battle of wits, even as I’m comfortable in my pajama pants watching Netflix. Texting is also safer, both physically and emotionally—I can suss out my buddy’s intentions from the security of my own home, and if an interaction goes wrong, I am miles away from them. Continue reading

Bachelorella: The Bachelorette’s Nightmare Non-monogamy

Nick and Kaitlyn traumatize passersby. Source: All on TV.

Nick and Kaitlyn traumatize passersby. Source: All on TV.

I took a break from Bachelorella recaps because much of this season has been composed of cringe-inducing group dates and unnecessary confrontations. But I needed to come back this week because, in case you hadn’t heard, Kaitlyn got laid on national television. Reactions to Kaitlyn gettin’ some swung in two directions: the online media rolled its eyes and said WELL DUH, SHE IS THIRTY YEARS OLD, WHY IS THIS A SCANDAL, while viewers on Twitter called Kaitlyn a whorish, vapid tramp. And then the media machine embedded those tweets, and then more articles happened, and the producers were rewarded with the controversy they so perfectly manufactured. Keep it classy, America.

So. Why is it so scandalous for the Bachelorette to bone one of her dudes? After all, people have sex all the time; it’s a normal part of a relationship. If Kaitlyn is going to marry one of these men, she better give them a sexy test drive. She was going to sleep with at most three of them in a few weeks in the fantasy suite anyway. Why all the pearl clutching and Twitter freak-outs? What is the big deal?

The answer, my dear friends, is that The Bachelorette is a nightmare version of non-monogamy where everybody loses. The relationships fostered in this jet-setting disaster of a dating show are caught up in the story the producers want to tell, the values America wants it to uphold, and the audience’s hunger for blood. Emotional carnage, all for the purpose of great television. How far we as a society have come. Continue reading

Bachelorella: The Men of The Bachelorette Teach Sex Ed and It Isn’t a Total Disaster

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Ryan helps middle schoolers locate the clit. I’m not kidding.

Quick Bachelorette recap this week because let’s be honest, not a lot happened. Tony weirdly showed his temper when he had to sumo wrestle and left the show because he’s a pretentious little pissbaby. Clint and JJ are faking a gay romance to get more screen time and it’s kind of biphobic and would make for great television if they were, you know, less obvious about being manipulative idiots (anyone who thinks their attraction to each other is real is a moron and has not hung out with bros for very long). Ben Z. and Kaitlyn had a super dumb date involving a scary puzzle room which I fast-forwarded through because #noonecares. Blah blah drama drama Kaitlyn really enjoys confronting men who are assholes, which I respect but sometimes you gotta just take the high road, girl. Not every petty manchild deserves your attention. You are The Bachelorette, you have producers to walk the discards down the long driveway of shame.

I would have skipped recapping this week entirely, but one of the group dates involved making the men of The Bachelorette teach sex education to a room full of child actors as a funny prank. The sad thing? They made better sex education teachers than the volleyball coach who taught me about the birds and the bees my senior year of high school. Continue reading

Herpes, Two Years Later: On Sex Without Condoms

Condoms also make great party hats, just FYI.

Condoms also make great party hats, just FYI.

I had to write an awkward email a few weeks ago. A journalist wrote a piece about me (and my genital herpes) for a very prominent, respected publication in the United Kingdom, and she included a line about how I’ve never had sex without a condom. It was a reasonable assumption; in my essay for Women’s Health, I discussed how shocked I was to get diagnosed with herpes when I had never had “unprotected” sex in my life. Had never. Past tense. I sucked it up and sent the author a short note, she made a quick correction, and no one was the wiser. But the exchange stuck with me, if for no other reason than for how self-conscious it made me feel. There was a strange shame in telling this relative stranger that I have had unprotected sex. More than once. Despite having genital herpes. Continue reading